Gifted and Talented or Private School Testing – Test Conditions Matter

I want to share with you a question I just received from a parent (along with my answer to her).

Let this serve as a cautionary tale to you that the conditions under which your child is tested do make a difference.

“Dear Karen, How are you doing? I spoke with you a few times before I purchased your program and had a few questions for you. My son has been doing your program and really enjoys it. He is currently enrolled at an excellent pre-K program that goes thru Kindergarten. I was torn between moving him now or waiting until after Kindergarten because most of the students that leave Kindergarten there test at least on 1st grade level, if not 2nd grade level. We thought it would be better to possibly move him now as there are usually more spots for the Kindergarten incoming class than the next grade levels. He will be entering Kindergarten in the Fall and we decided to have him test at two private schools in our city and one of the public magnet gifted schools.

I took him to do all of the testing. The first two tests we took were at the private schools. I told him we were doing brain games like on the computer and did not pressure him letting him know we were testing. Well he actually enjoyed the “brain games” and actually told me he did well on them. The last test was for the magnet school. I wasn’t comfortable because the test was given at 7:00am in the morning, a time he is normally asleep and not riding in a car across town to school. I also felt that the test administrators at the private school did such a good job of making him feel welcome and comfortable while the magnet school seemed to be rushing students in and out to get things over and done. Well we just got the decisions back and for some strange reason he was accepted to both of the private schools but we received a letter from the magnet school stating he didn’t score high enough on their test. This was very puzzling to me as how could he pass the test for private schools costing 19.5k year but not pass a public school test? Can you help me understand what happened?”

Here is how I answered this mom’s question:

“It sounds to me like the private school did a much better job of administering the tests and this could have affected your son’s score. Here, they took the time to welcome your son and make him feel comfortable. He was probably tested by a psychologist there who is experienced administering these types of tests and making children feel comfortable. It doesn’t sound like they were under any time constraint, or trying to finish the test before the school day started. I think it is absolutely crazy that the public school scheduled your son’s test for 7 a.m. If you live across town, it might have taken half an hour to drive to the school so he probably had to get up at 5:30 a.m. to take the test. This cut into his sleep schedule and there is research that tells us that cutting into even an hour of a child’s sleep schedule before a test can reduce a child’s test scores by one grade level. It sounds like the public school was trying to get the test done before the school day started and (perhaps) the tester had another place she needed to be by 8:00 a.m.

You could certainly ask for a retest, although the principal might resist and say that all the other children were tested at that (ungodly) hour so they were all at a similar disadvantage. But you could try. If you decide to wait and reapply to the magnet school next year, I would suggest that you insist that he not be tested at such an early hour next time. If you continue to work with your son between now and then on school skills and the types of skills that will be covered on the test, he should be in great shape for any test they might give him then (at a more reasonable hour!).”

Scheduling Your Child’s Test

When you are tasked with scheduling an important test for your child, you may or may not have the ability to choose the optimal time for the test to take place. But I encourage you to do your very best to make sure that you schedule the test at a time when your child is generally at his or her best. If a school (or testing center) wants to schedule a test super early in the morning, and you will have to change your child’s sleep schedule to accommodate that, tell the school that this won’t work for your child and find another time. If a school (or testing center) wants to schedule a test at a time when your child is usually napping, do not take that time.

If you have to keep your child out of preschool or school on the day of a test to make the test-time, do that. You don’t want your child to go into a test after spending the morning at school – she’ll be tired. And you don’t want to pull your child out of school, where she may be in the middle of doing something really fun, to take her for a test. She won’t want to be at that test and may not do her best.

If your child will be tested at an unfamiliar school or testing center, it is a good idea to take your child by that location a few days ahead of time. Let him know that you’ll be going there in a few days, where he will meet with a teacher, who is very nice like his teacher at school, Mrs. So-and-So. Tell him that this special teacher will be asking him questions to see how much a 4-year-old like him knows. If there is a playground at the school where he will be tested and he can play on it, let him. You want him to be as comfortable as possible with the venue where he’ll be going for testing. It is also important to arrive early so your child isn’t rushed out of your arms the moment you arrive. Bring a book to read to him if you have to wait. The transition from mom to tester should be gentle and easy and calm! Arriving early ensures that this can happen. When it comes to testing a very young child, test conditions can affect the score. You want to do as much as you possibly can to make these conditions as supportive for your child’s success as possible.